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Date: 12/8/2009

DEP and the DHP place a cork into proposed biomass plans in the area

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has confirmed to Reminder Publications the permitting process for the proposed electrical generation plant that would use construction and demolition waste and wood chips as fuel will now include a review of its possible health impacts.

Katherine Skiba said DEP officials would work with the state's Department of Public Health (DPH) in developing a series of questions that Palmer Renewable Energy would be required to answer as part of the permitting process.

The decision came after a letter from DPH was sent to DEP questioning the DEP decision to forego a health impact study.

An environmental impact study, which would have included health interests, had been previously deemed unnecessary by DEP officials for the project.

Skiba said there is no established timeline for the additional element of the permitting process, but added the parties would like to work on this as soon as possible.

Michaelann Bewsee, the founder of a group in Springfield opposing the plant, welcomed the news.

"I'm very happy," she said. "We still have lots of work we can do to build awareness in the community."

Bewsee said her group would undertake polling area elected officials on how they stand on the proposed facility.

The announcement followed the DEP air quality hearing on Wednesday at which DEP officials announced the period for the agency to accept written comments on the plant had been extended to Dec. 18. Any written comments may be sent by e-mail to or by regular mail to Marc Simpson, Air Quality Permit Chief, Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Waste Prevention, 436 Dwight St., Springfield, MA 01103.

The hearing was conducted in the auditorium of the Kennedy Middle School and was close to standing room only. Beginning at 7 p.m. the hearing accepted testimony from people speaking on the proposed plant and lasted until about 10:20 p.m.

No representatives from Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE) spoke in favor of its plan. Although State Rep. Sean Curran attended the hearing, he did not speak. Springfield City Councilor-elect Tom Allen was at the meeting in his role as the chair of the Springfield Public Health Advisory Council, but he did not speak.

Allen said the council had met with PRE the previous day to hear testimony in favor of the generating facility and the council had not yet deliberated to reach a position on the plant.

Those who did speak came from around the region to protest the plant. Sue Reed with the Conservation Law Foundation was the first speaker and brought up themes that dominated the evening: the burning of construction waste would severely impact the quality of air in Western Massachusetts.

Megan Jenny of the Toxins Action Center called for the recycling of materials from demolished building rather than burning the material.

"Construction and demolition waste is one of the most toxic parts of the waste stream," she said.

Alexandra Dawson of Hadley asked a series of questions about the plant to the DEP officials. At a hearing, the officials can only listen and accept testimony and cannot answer or engage the speakers.

Dawson wanted to know how the DEP was going to monitor the facilities that process the fuel. She also asked if all of the records concerning PRE would be public.

According to the proposed plan, emissions from the plant's smokestack would be tested quarterly during the first year and Dawson wanted to know what was going to happen after that period.

"Do people get more and more careful? Is that our experience with nuclear power?" she asked.

"Mercury and arsenic do have friends and they trying to set up housekeeping in Springfield," she added,

Mary Booth of the Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance noted that current air quality standards "are not protective of our health."

"We go out of compliance some days of the year," she said of the valley's air quality. "Building new sources of particulate [pollution] will make us go out of compliance more."

Dr. Richard Wagner, a faculty member of Western New England College, represented that college and Springfield College, and said both institutions oppose the plant until health standards are successfully met.

Roxanne Langevin of Springfield noted, "Depressed areas get dirty technologies because we don't stand up for ourselves."

Turning to the DEP members she asked, "Why are you trying to sell us an eight track tape in an iPod world?"